Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tenth avenue freeze out

Maybe it’s the 19 degree weather outside that’s making me think about the day my brother and I took this picture. Here we are 13 months ago (a zebra’s gestation period!) drinking beer at the fanciest hotel in Niamey, Niger.

It was so hot that day it took us til sunset to leave my brother’s apartment, where we could walk barefoot over the cool tile floors and read our books in rooms almost too dark to see the pages and fall in and out of sleep with no one to nag that we were late for work or school or plans we’d made with friends.

We drove to the hotel at dusk out of lazy guilt, and the trees that lined the street looked ornamented with black plastic bags, like it was a trash holiday we were heading to the hotel to celebrate! On the terrace where we drank, we could look over the dirty river as the city’s sewage floated past us, camouflaged by the murkiness of the water itself. And there was the bridge too, just to our left, connecting the half of the city with a hospital to the half of the city without one. Poor city planning for the days like yesterday, when a camel got pounded by a Peugeot and bridge traffic wound its way miles down the main road for hours. On the bank of the river men unloaded a pirogue full of watermelons by passing each down a line of ten. I’d like to do that job, I think.

There’s a reason to drink beer on the hotel terrace right at dusk. At first you think those are birds cutting the sunset’s pinks and oranges with contrails of high-pitched sound. Screeching sound. But if you’re there with your brother, who could tell you where in Naimey to buy a bottle of whiskey or swim in a pool or see the street kid with elephantitis, you know better. Those are bats! The ones sleeping in the trees on our drive over, disguising themselves as third world waste. First there are not even so many as to make you notice them. Then there are more. Then so many cloak the setting sun it’s like you’re staring at a candle through a hole in your sweater. By the time they thin out, it’s dark all around. As if the bats gobbled up the sunlight like a rotting piece of fruit.

Today, even though the sky is clear and blue there are no birds on telephone wires. Dogs wear coats and shoes to pee outside. Too cold for bats today. Too cold for newborn zebras.

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome. BTW, there are hospitals on both sides of the river.